Pitt holds off Duke in record-setting fashion
DURHAM, N.C. — Pitt coach Paul Chryst surveyed the wreckage, found several happy survivors and pondered what to do next after his team surrendered 733 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns in a 58-55 victory Saturday against Duke.
“This is who we are right now,” he said after Pitt (2-1, 1-1) won its first ACC game. “We have to do what we can as a coaching staff to find ways to help. We have to work to get better.”
The aftermath, however, didn't feel like a loss.
Senior quarterback Tom Savage had his way with the Duke secondary, completing 23 of 33 passes for 424 yards, no interceptions and six touchdown passes. The half-dozen scoring throws tied an ACC record and fell one short of the Pitt record.
Receivers Devin Street and Tyler Boyd were dominant, and freshman running back James Conner (26 carries, 173 yards, one touchdown) appeared to climb to the top of the depth chart.
Street had the eighth 100-yard game of his career (six catches, 166 yards and two touchdowns), and Boyd (eight receptions, 154 yards, three touchdowns) made Pitt history.
The freshman from Clairton is the first Pitt player since Dorin Dickerson in 2009 to make three touchdown grabs and the first freshman since Antonio Bryant in 1999 with two consecutive 100-yard games.
“It was fun,” Savage said. “It's easy to do that with those guys.”
Even redshirt junior receiver Kevin Weatherspoon, who hadn't made a reception in his time at Pitt until Saturday, made the play of the game, a diving, 13-yard grab near the sideline on third down to allow Pitt to run out the clock in the fourth quarter.
Duke quarterback Brandon Connette — a backup playing only because Anthony Boone has a broken collarbone — either flourished or failed. He threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns and ran for 101 and two more scores. Pitt intercepted four of his passes, including linebacker Anthony Gonzalez's 37-yard return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that gave Pitt a 58-41 lead with 8:30 to play.
But Duke (2-2, 0-2) scored twice after that to help create a record number of combined points for a Pitt game, surpassing a 63-48 West Virginia victory over the Panthers in 1965.
“We have to be better at closing out a game,” Chryst said.
“We need to work on some stuff,” said defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who had a sack and another tackle for a loss. “We got a win, so we're going to be happy about the win, but I'm kind of disappointed as far as letting them score 55 points on us. I'm real disappointed in that part.”
Street, who has been around long enough to have seen some devastating losses, said he couldn't help but think about Pitt losing leads against Iowa in 2011 and Notre Dame last year.
“Those close games, we couldn't finish,” he said. “Today was a true test. I think it's a good indication of where we're at. Wins and losses come a dime a dozen, but effort can't be matched.”
Then he added: “Of course, we have to get better.”
Pitt had trouble coping with Duke's hurry-up offense a week after controlling New Mexico's less-effective read-option attack.
“I thought last week we did a better job of assignment football,” Chryst said. “When they spread you apart, if one guy is off, whether his eyes are wrong or (he) doesn't defeat a block ...”
He didn't finish the thought, but it's clear he will demand improvement on defense before next weekend's game against Virginia. In three games, Pitt has allowed 123 points. Last season it took Pitt six games to reach that number.
“We found a way to win,” Chryst said, “and we found a way to make it close.”